Being Maltese, from a small Mediterranean island that many struggle to locate on a map has never elicited much jealousy from peers. Nor has my pride in it necessarily been based on any specific reason, though pastizzis and yearlong sun come pretty close.
But on 12 July, Malta proved itself as the incredible country that I know it to be when it legalised same-sex marriage through a parliamentary vote, in which all but one parliamentarian voted in favour for the replacement of “husband and wife” with that of “spouse” in the legislation.
It must be put in context as to why this was such an incredible feat for the nation that is considered more Roman Catholic than the Vatican.
Malta was the second last country in the world to legalise divorce, with legislation passing in 2011. Abortion is illegal in all circumstances on the island — a stance supported by both major political parties. The morning-after pill was only made legal in December 2016.
It is almost paradoxical that a country of such staunch conservatism, which is so resistant to progressive values that have been accepted by other Western nations for years, is also the fifteenth European nation to legalise same-sex marriage, and the first European country to ban gay conversion therapy. If the Catholic Wogs can do it, why can’t Australians?
Discourse surrounding the degradation of “Christian values” in Australian society has been rife in the wake of the recently confirmed plebiscite. And yet Malta is constitutionally a Roman Catholic state; Australia is a secular state, with no state religion. Ninety-five per cent of the Maltese population are Roman Catholic; fifty-two percent of Australians identify as Christians according to the 2016 census, with 30.1 per cent listing ‘no religion’. Following Malta’s passing of same-sex legislationweekly Sunday church attendance remains at 53 per cent; according to the National Church Life Survey, Australian monthly attendance is down to 16 per cent. Conservative Maltese politicians from both the left and right leaning parties passed same-sex marriage with an overwhelmingly majority, through a Parliamentary vote; Our Federal Coalition Government are willing to spend $122 million on a non-binding survey.
Unfortunately, unlike Malta, Australia has an incredibly poor division between Church and State, and while the Church has increasingly less influence over Australian lives than previously, it continues to have increasing influence on our elected Parliamentarians.
The close relationship between the Church and State in Malta allowed for the successful legislation of same-sex marriage, in which advocates were able to develop religiously favourable arguments that worked towards parliamentarians’ faith and beliefs.
At the moment, 40 per cent of the Coalition Government and 30 per cent of the Labor Opposition identify as Christian. Every fortnight during parliamentary sitting weeks the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship meets with regular attendance of sixty parliamentarians from all parties, describing itself as “an interdenominational group of Members and Senators who seek to live out their faith in Christ Jesus while serving the Australian public through their role in government.”
Current arguments for marriage equality in Australia, have been out of sync with our elected representatives religious views, because our parliamentarians’ religious views are not reflective of that of the Australian populations’ per se. Australia’s precarious secularisation, in which the percentage of religious parliamentarians is disproportionate to the general public, has seen the debate surrounding same-sex marriage attack religion, rather than appealing to a parliamentarian’s sense of faith as a means to an end.
The bedrock of Australian democracy is our ability to elect our parliamentary representatives. If these individuals don’t have the integrity or strength to represent their own electorates, or even their own conscience, one must question whether they are capable of serving in Federal Parliament. The fact that the Government is comfortable to spend $122 million on a national survey but won’t take legitimate action on climate change, the struggles of farmers, forced surgery on intersex youth, or better funding for health and education, should anger all Australians across political lines.
If Australia is a truly secular government, with clear divisions between State and Church, using religion to argue against same-sex marriage should not stand in the way of our parliamentarians’ decision making.
If Australia is truly the great religious nation that our politicians consider us to be then follow the lead of the most religious nation in the world. Do as the Maltese have done in showing that tolerance, religion, and equality can all come together, and co-exist; legalise same-sex marriage.
If the Wogs can do it then surely the Aussies can too!